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Baroque churches, elegant palaces and ancient catacombs – the historic city centre of Lima offers visitors a glimpse of many centuries of history. Until the middle of the 18th century, the 'City of Kings' as Lima is also called, was the centre of the Spanish New World. The ornate historic buildings testify to this wealthy period in Peruvian history. One of the most beautiful colonial structures is the San Francisco monastery, a peaceful oasis in the heart of Lima.
Over the centuries, Lima has had its fair share of earthquakes. But the San Francisco monastery has withstood many without suffering much damage. Lima’s most important religious complex is a wonderful example of colonial architecture in Latin America. The ornate gilded church, the large library and impressive Moorish dome are just some of the most beautiful highlights of the monastery. But one of the most popular attractions is found underground: the catacombs.
Go through the side entrance of the San Francisco monastery to appreciate the pomp and splendour of the Spanish golden age in Peru. The ochre-coloured church is one of the finest examples of Spanish Baroque architecture in Latin America. The church’s exterior is adorned with graceful decorations and elegant arcades. The interior is also ornately decorated – admire the impressive dome with Moorish patterns, altars laden with gold and gems, and the many frescos.
The library of the monastery is world renowned. Metres-high bookcases fill the space and 2 spiral stairways lead to the first floor which is packed with even more books. The collection consists of more than 25,000 works of all kinds of genres. The library also includes several very old books, some even predating Spanish colonisation. The books were brought over by priests on the first expeditions to the New World. Also take a look at the fresco of the Last Supper. Painted by Diego de la Puente, this version of the famous scene depicts the disciples as they eat ‘cuy’ (guinea pig), a typical Peruvian dish.
“Some antique books even predate Spanish colonisation”
To visit the most popular attraction of the monastery, descend several metres below ground to the catacombs. Until 1808, the catacombs were used as a cemetery. Approximately 70,000 bodies have been laid to rest in this large underground network. The walls underneath the church are decorated with stacks of bones. Wide wells are filled with skeletons and skulls laid out in various patterns. A tour of the catacombs guarantees a macabre but unforgettable experience in Lima.